A small disclaimer: When it comes to motherhood, I have it easy.
Despite my husband and I both being 'challenging' babies, by a strange twist of fate we've somehow managed to produce a good-natured, easy-going girl. I'm by nature a worrier, a panicker and easily stressed and by all accounts was expected to be that type of mother but plenty have expressed surprise at how calmly I've taken to motherhood. I'd love to take credit for my unexpectedly serene approach but the simple fact is that Liv makes it easy. She's never been ill, she's always eaten well without fuss and she's a champion sleeper. Champion. It won't make me many friends to admit this but she regularly doesn't wake up until after 9am, after having gone to bed at some point between 7- 8pm and until recently was happily taking two naps a day of up to 2 hours each. I don’t know how or why, I just thank my lucky stars. On top of all this luck, the quirks of my husband's working hours mean that he's often around at times during the day to help out and is very involved with her day-to-day routines. And the times when he's out working of an evening have a silver lining, as with Liv asleep and the place to myself, I get plenty of opportunities for much needed 'me time', which is essential for a new mother's sanity.
We're also fortunate enough that I had the choice of not returning to work and am instead able to follow my husband around the world with our daughter, which is just the most incredible luxury - the fact that we can all be together is worth more than anything to us.
Oh and living in this day and age makes things easier too. While we're grateful for washing machines, dishwashers, microwaves, dust-busters and other household gadgets that make life easier, it's the newer technologies that I'm eternally grateful for. In the early days of breastfeeding, being able to distract myself at 4am with emails and articles on my smartphone or a good book on my e-reader helped those initial drawn-out feeds seem more bearable. I had white-noise apps and bedtime story apps and music to distract Liv. I had apps to record her vague schedule to see patterns in her behaviour and apps that gave me weekly updates on roughly what she should be up to, with forums where I could seek advice or reassurance or solutions from mothers with babies the same age. And how would I have coped without Google? Any slight niggle or worry was usually solved with a quick search and realization that whatever was bothering me was completely normal. How my grandmothers both raised six children without all this help and under harsh financial conditions is beyond me.
If it helps you not completely hate me, I should mention that I had a tricky pregnancy, moved country when my daughter was 3 weeks old and have been travelling back and forth ever since, my father nearly died when Liv was 10 weeks old and then spent 6 months seriously ill in hospital while we were mostly stuck on the other side of the world, her other grandfather has also been seriously unwell this year and due to our travelling and our parents’ health crises, we haven’t had anyone to take her off our hands occasionally for a break. Plus, the next little one might be a complete nightmare, so don’t write me off completely!
But the point of all this, is to explain that despite being blessed with so much luck, I have at times really struggled. There have been brief periods when everything has seemed all too much. I found breastfeeding tough and it took almost six months to feel comfortable with it. Like any other baby, Liv has struggled with teething, had bouts of colic, suffered through growth spurts and ‘wonder weeks’ and we have suffered with her. There’s a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a torture method and for those few weeks when sleep has been a distant memory and I’ve been battling to get through the day feeling horrendous and with a sad and angry little girl who’s in pain or confused and frustrated, I’ve had a peek into what some people have to deal with all the time. Those mothers (and fathers) whose little ones are sick, or have special needs, or whose partners are absent, either permanently or temporarily, or are struggling with huge worries and burdens, or who just have a tricky baby like my mother did – I was an underweight, colicky and sickly baby, who was allergic to milk, had constant ear infections and picked up every bug going and just basically cried and refused to eat or sleep most of the time. In those patches when I’ve caught a glimpse of the harsh reality for plenty of other parents, I’m so grateful to have had so much good fortune and it serves as a reminder to go easy on other parents, as you never know what they're battling with.
I don't really have a parenting method or mantra, other than to do whatever works for me and my family to stay sane and to be prepared to try anything. I started out before Liv was born with a few set ideas and most of those have gone out of the window. I had preconceptions about various parenting styles and was often judgemental but now I just do whatever it takes to work for us and I'm open to all sorts that previously I would never have considered.
The reason for this splurge is that I noticed on Facebook the other day that a couple of totally unrelated friends had commented on the same post. I was intrigued and realised it was a post written by fairly well known ‘baby guru’. It wasn't anything particularly exciting, just a story of a recent client's baby and the success of her methods. One of my friends had commented that she'd found the same methods helpful with her daughter and a few other mothers had followed suit. And that's where it should have ended. Except, there was suddenly a barrage of abusive comments from other mothers in their hundreds, calling the 'baby guru' all sorts of atrocious things but much more shockingly, completely condemning the mothers who were following her methods. And the language was more than a little fruity. Really disgusting words and insults being slung about. And accusations of abuse by the mothers using the methods. For the record, it's a variation of sleep training and a fairly mild one at that (I'd even bought the book myself but due to laziness, had never got beyond the first few chapters). I was utterly shocked. How new mothers could treat each other like that was beyond me - they more than anyone should know how hard it can be and how difficult it is to survive the first few months of any baby, let alone a tricky one. And what sort of an example is that to set, with such harsh words and treatment of others?
So really, this is just a plea to all mothers to support each other, regardless of your opinions. Don't be quick to jump to conclusions or judge too harshly. You never know what another mother's having to deal with. We're all just trying to survive and do our very best for our families. How we manage that is up to us. If you've got it all worked out and are sailing through everything perfectly, then bully for you. But for goodness sake don't let your smugness actually turn you into a bully.